In The Excited, Rondinone renders this timeless theme with a distinctly humorous gloss. The present work was featured in a celebrated 2013 show at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York entitled Soul. Here, over thirty anthropomorphic stone figures ranging in size from twenty inches to ten feet congregated in a single space. Despite their minimal differences and featureless countenances, the artist christened each of them with distinctive personalities, among them The Excited, The Contented, and The Thrilled. Each of the figures was made from the same rough-cut bluestone, with deliberately visible markings that show how the material had been worked. The viewer finds themselves seeking the correlation between figure, material and title: does this stone chipping make The Thrilled more excited than The Contented? Does this extra inch cause The Excited to vie for our attention more than the others? Rondinone made the following remark on the series: “the stone figure is the most archetypal representation of the human form, and I show it in the most elemental and archaic way using the most ancient material – stone – and name the figures after our fundamental state of being: feelings” (Ugo Rondinone in conversation with Jarrett Earnest, in: The Brooklyn Rail, 23 May 2013, online). The Excited alludes to universally-recognised signifiers of human civilisation, such as Stonehenge and the Easter Island Moai statues, but it is also firmly grounded in the here and now: Rondinone has imbued it with warmth and a defiant individualism in relation to its impassive, monolithic forbearers.
Despite this being the first series in which Rondinone worked with stone, the material has a personal resonance for the artist. His father was a stonemason raised in the ancient mountainous region of Basilicata in southern Italy, renowned for the Sassi di Matera, a series of cave dwellings whose history can be traced back over nine millennia. The artist is rarely seen without a necklace bearing a stone from one of his ancestral caves that has been handed down generations of the family.
Rondinone’s international recognition appears to be in permanent ascendancy: in 2007 he represented Switzerland at the Venice Biennale alongside Urs Fischer, and it was recently announced that his installation piece for the Art Production Fund and the Nevada Museum of Art, Seven Magic Mountains, would have its run extended to five years from an original two following a wave of public demand. His work is featured in permanent collections as prestigious as the MoMA in New York and San Francisco.
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